Parson to Person: “A President, a King, and a Minister,” Jan. 31, 2020

Since we celebrated M L King Sunday on January 19th, and we are on the cusp of February (Black History Month), I thought I’d mention a few interesting connections between Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and a 19th-century Unitarian abolitionist minister named Theodore Parker.

First, the connection between Lincoln and King: When Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was at the Memorial to Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C., and in the speech he alluded to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Lincoln had started that speech with “Fourscore and seven years ago…”   King began his by saying “Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation.”  So he was very aware that in some way he was walking in Lincoln’s footsteps. What he could not know–though he must have suspected it–was that, like Lincoln, he would be assassinated. (Also like Lincoln, he was killed just before Easter.)

Second, the connection between Lincoln and Parker: In his Gettysburg Address President Lincoln referred to American democracy as government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Years before, Rev. Theodore Parker had called democracy “government of, by, and for the people.”  Pretty close, don’t you think?

Third, the connection between King and Parker: One of Dr. King’s most famous quotations was: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This too is a quote from the Unitarian minister Theodore Parker.

Fourth, the connection between all three: Both of the above quotations were among former President Obama’s favorite sayings, and both were included around the border of the rug that he put in the Oval Office. Also, when Obama was sworn in as president, he swore his oath of office on two bibles: one was Lincoln’s, the other was Dr. King’s.

Finally, the connection with Unitarian Universalism:  Besides the fact that Rev. Parker was a Unitarian minister, here are four other UU connections:

  1. King learned about Gandhi’s movement of nonviolence through a sermon he heard at a Unitarian congregation. (Before that, he hadn’t thought of nonviolent resistance as being the way forward in the struggle for racial equality.)
  2. When Dr. King called on clergy from across the nation to join his Selma march, there were more proportionately more UU ministers who answered the call than any other denomination.
  3. The two white marchers who were martyred in Selma were UUs: James Reeb (the UU minister beaten by white racists, and whom President Johnson mentioned in his speech to pass the Voting Rights Act) and Viola Liuzzo (UU layperson killed by Klan night riders while she was transporting marchers back to Selma).
  4. President Obama attended a Unitarian Sunday School when he was growing up in Hawaii. (Granted, he didn’t stay UU, but still it’s nice to think he and his family may have been influenced by UU values.)

As we move from January to February, I thought you might want to know some of these items. Each by itself is fairly small, I suppose. Still, one or another of these give me a little hope, and a little re-invigoration, for the long struggle ahead.  And so I wish you, as always,

peace and unrest,

tony